A dish that can bowl you over

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - You’re not slurp­ing You’re bit­ing off more than you can chew You’re not pay­ing at­ten­tion You’re not tak­ing top­pings se­ri­ously You’re ig­nor­ing your bev­er­age You’re mind­ing your man­ners too much

FOR fans, ra­men is a thing of beauty, taut noo­dles in a steam­ing rich broth, ready for in­stant con­sump­tion. Yet de­vour­ing a bowl can be daunt­ing. Few foods in­spire such a cult-like fol­low­ing, yet it’s kind of un­wieldy to eat.

Do you slurp up the long noo­dles, or at­tempt to “cut” them up with your chop­sticks? Do you copy the guy that picked up his bowl and drank from it?

For some gen­eral rules of thumb we turned to Ivan Orkin, who spent years study­ing the art of ra­men and knows ex­actly what to do and what not to do. Here are his rules:

When a bowl of ra­men is placed in front of you, the noo­dles will prob­a­bly be coiled to­gether. If you take a mo­ment to un­tan­gle them with your chop­sticks, pulling them out of the coil, they’re eas­ier to eat. If you just grab a large sec­tion of the tan­gle, you won’t fit them into your mouth. Many peo­ple like to place a Chi­nese soup spoon, a renge, un­der­neath their noo­dles. (I think the spoon is the dumb­est made, and one day some­one will in­vent a bet­ter one). If you’re in a fancy place with the ridged chop­sticks that re­ally hold the noo­dles, then you should have no prob­lem with slip­page. I have friends in Ja­pan who bring their own chop­sticks when they go out – a tad too ob­ses­sive for me.

Do not be afraid to slurp your ra­men. In Ja­pan, it’s ex­pected. For one thing, it cools hot noo­dles down. Noo­dles you can slurp are also the sign of a broth with enough fat to cling to them.

If you can’t slurp – as the noo­dle feels dry – the broth isn’t rich enough. This brings me to a side note about hav­ing the right noo­dle in the right broth: pair­ing noo­dles with soup is the same as pair­ing bread with a sand­wich fill­ing.

If you try to make a sand­wich with Genoa salami and a su­per soft roll, it will be a fail­ure and fall apart in your hands. A thick broth such as the pork-fatty opaque Tonkotsu needs a stur­dier noo­dle.

The lighter soy sauce-flavoured shoyu broth calls for a more del­i­cate one.

You want your soup to be in har­mony. This isn’t nec­es­sar­ily some­thing you can con­trol, but it makes you an ex­pert to be aware of.

A lot of peo­ple make the mis­take of grab­bing a gi­ant pile of noo­dles which they can’t re­ally han­dle.

Rule of thumb: take a smaller amount than you think you want. You do not want to be suck­ing noo­dles into your mouth and then bit­ing them in half so that some falls back into the bowl. That’s just gross. No one would do that with a steak. Plan for a full, but not over­whelm­ing mouth­ful of noo­dles. I like to think of ra­men prepa­ra­tion as an ac­tion sport, an in­ter­ac­tive ac­tiv­ity. If you’re lucky enough to sit at a ra­men bar that over­looks the kitchen, watch them build the bowl. It’s a sur­pris­ingly com­plex pro­ce­dure for some­thing that seems so sim­ple. Years be­fore I opened my first shop in Tokyo, I couldn’t un­der­stand how ra­men was made. I would stare over the counter, fig­ur­ing out how they did ev­ery­thing, such as tim­ing of cook­ing the noo­dles, and that’s how I learnt to make ra­men.

When I go to a ra­men shop for the first time, I choose the bowl that the place is most fa­mous for. I will go easy on the top­pings; maybe I will get an egg.

I want to know whether I like the flavour of the ra­men and what the fuss is all about. If I go back, then I will check to see if they have a spe­cial, and that’s when I ex­per­i­ment with top­pings.

I’m a purist, and don’t usu­ally do a lot of them, how­ever, that doesn’t mean they’re not fun, and if you feel like or­der­ing all the gar­nishes you can find on the menu, go for it. It’s like or­der­ing all the top­pings for your pizza.

Be ready to drink a tremen­dous amount of wa­ter with your ra­men – or beer, or both. There’s a lot of salt in the broth, whether you know it or not, and if you don’t drink wa­ter, I guar­an­tee you are go­ing to feel crappy. In Ja­pan, they sell a spe­cial black oo­long tea, which helps to di­gest the pork fat in Tonkotsu ra­men. You can find the tea in vend­ing ma­chines next to some of shops that sell Tonkotsu ra­men – the pork-based one, which is es­pe­cially fatty.

It’s to­tally okay to drink the broth from the bowl. It’s con­sid­ered a com­pli­ment to how good the broth is. How­ever, fin­ish it at your own risk; those broths are flavour bombs, packed with sodium. An­other thing that is okay to do is to ask for ex­tra noo­dles if you’ve fin­ished the ones in your bowl. Last, have a stack of nap­kins handy, be­cause ra­men can be a bit of a mess.

That’s why it is so pop­u­lar. Like all the great com­fort foods of the world, it’s messy and won­der­ful. – Bloomberg

A hot bowl of ra­men stands high on the list of great com­fort foods of the world.

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